I had planned on making this German feast last year, but the meal fell apart. I think Miriam got sent off to Peru for work (just like she is today). Chris is still coming over, so I am going to go ahead and make it this time.
Rotkohl is one of those dishes that both Jan and I grew up with. It wasn’t until I started to make it for myself that I discovered that it could be turning into something more edible. Jan’s mother and mine would cook this dish for an hour, until it had turned to sludge. Cook the cabbage until just tender and if possible cook it the day ahead and let it pickle overnight in the refrigerator for the best flavor.
Jan does not like bacon (another childhood trauma), so I am making this with butter. Bacon drippings are the traditional fat used in this dish and they add a nice flavor. However, many people today avoid this fat for various religious, ethical and dietary reasons.
½ cup apple cider vinegar
½ cup water (or good German beer)
¼ cup brown sugar
¼ tsp. black pepper
4-5 whole cloves
1 small bay leaf
1 Tbs. lemon juice
1 tart apple, sliced thin pole to pole
1 Tbs. butter (olive oil for Vegan or bacon drippings for the traditional)
1 medium red onion, sliced thin pole to pole
Pinch Kosher salt
1 head Red Cabbage, shredded
1. Measure out the first seven ingredients into a small bowl. Stir to dissolve the sugar.
2. Peel, core, and slice the apple and add it to the bowl.
Tip: The acids in the bowl will prevent the apple from browning.
Note: My son-in-law, Chris, is not eating fruit at the moment. I cut the apple into large slices so that he can pick around them. I have also reduced the sugar by half for Chris, but you may use as much as half a cup.
3. Melt one tablespoon of butter in a large sauté pan and sauté the onion 3 minutes, until just translucent.
4. Add the cabbage to pan and mix it in with the onions. Cover the pan for 2 minutes, until the cabbage is well wilted. Remove the cover and continue sautéing for 3 more minutes, until most of the pan liquid has been released.
Tip: The cover traps the steam released by the vegetables and wilts the cabbage much faster and more evenly.
5. Add the contents of the bowl and mix well.
Tip: Distribute the apple bit evenly and push them down into the cabbage.
6. Bring the pan to a boil, cover, and reduce heat. Cook about 20 minutes or until the cabbage is just tender, but still with a small bite.
7. Check for flavor balance, add more sugar, vinegar or pepper, if necessary.
8. Let the rotkohl meld for at least one hour.
Tip: It is best to refrigerate overnight to let the cabbage pickle a bit.
9. Drain any excess liquid and discard cloves and bay leaf.
10. Serve warm as a side dish or cold as a salad.